By  on April 3, 2006

MILAN — There was a renewed interest from American, Japanese and Russian buyers for fall at Mipel, the international leather goods trade fair that took place here last month.

Mipel closed here on March 19 with a 5.8 percent surge in visitors from outside Italy to 14,506, and an 11.9 percent jump in Italian visitors, compared with 8,635 domestic visitors last March.

A strong presence of Russian visitors particularly helped bring much-needed relief to the almost 400 exhibitors at the four-day show as the industry continues to struggle to maintain market share in the face of competition from low-cost countries.

Giorgio Cannara, president of Mipel, noted how the number of Russian visitors grew a hefty 63.6 percent this year, adding, "Over the past few years, Russia has paid ever-increasing attention to Mipel."

Visitors from the U.S. grew 15.4 percent, those from Japan increased 9.8 percent and those from Germany rose 24.9 percent. The data echo upbeat information released last week by AIMPES, Italy's association of leather goods manufacturers, which showed a 9.4 percent increase in sales outside Italy, for a total of 2.2 billion euros, or $2.6 billion, across all categories. In particular, exports of women's handbags grew eight percent in the period, for a total of 1.3 billion euros, or $1.5 billion.

Aware of the tough competition in expanding global markets, exhibitors at Mipel focused on Italian craftsmanship, enhanced by details and embellishments. Handbag shapes were generally large and deconstructed. There were many alternatives to calfskin and suede, such as wool, fabrics, and animal and synthetic fur.

The color palette showed a full range of browns, from caramel to bronze, as well as black and sparks of rich reds, plum and burgundy. Colors and materials often showed a metallic silver or gold streak. Crocodile and mock reptile continue as a strong trend, together with ethnic inspirations based on a plethora of embroideries with sequins, beads and jewel details.

"There are still a lot of sequins, studs and jewels because they are eye-catching and I find that consumers enjoy the shiny effect," said Carla Braccialini, who designs the Braccialini collections.

Braccialini for fall revisited the 18th-century period with the Hapsburgs' coat of arms and that era's decors, showing suede bags embellished with double-headed eagles and jeweled crown."It's the [250th] anniversary of Mozart's birth, and I wanted to pay him a tribute with a collection that harks back to those times," said the designer. Braccialini, who employed calf with metallic colors, said "metallic touches work well with any color and with black, since there is still so much black around us."

Retro bags with brocade patterns and embroidered, colorful felt flowers added a romantic touch to the collection.

Bianchi & Nardi, a historical manufacturer based in Tuscany's leather goods hub, Scandicci, which works for such brands as Fendi, Chanel, Bulgari and Roberta di Camerino, introduced a new company-owned label named Indaco, or indigo. The collection comprises soft, large satchels in reptile, ostrich, suede and calfskins.

"Even if this is not a brilliant moment, we think there is room for such a collection because it is positioned in the high-end of the market, which is faring well, and we are focused on luxury hides and Italian craftsmanship," said Gabriele Bianchi, one of the owners of the company. "China still can't beat us on this."

A tote made with cayman skin, a reptile that costs less than alligator, wholesales at around 843 euros, or about $1,000. An ostrich bag wholesales at 659 euros, or about $790. The color palette revolved around indigo-blue, brown and cream.

Two lines geared for a young customer, Fornarina and Kipling, showed fun, streetwear collections. Fornarina, produced by Principe, showed a collection increasingly in line with the clothing collection, with cotton and calf patchwork shoulder bags and a new laurel crown logo. Kipling, distributed by the Italian firm Bric's, showcased bags made with crinkle nylon that have a denim-like effect.

In September, Mipel and Micam, the footwear exhibition that has been showing together with Mipel for the past few seasons, will be held at the same time as ready-to-wear show MilanoVendeModa, a nod to the increased synergies between the categories, according to Mauro Muzzolon, general director of Mipel.

"We are witnessing a total transformation of the sector," said Muzzolon, adding that Mipel "must be open to new solutions" that will take advantage of the new synergies with rtw, referring to a change in distribution of accessories that are no longer confined to specialty stores in Italy.

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